Six Months On

Well, nearly.

The wisdom of the coalition looks more settled now. I think that this is because Britain continues to retain it’s high credit rating whilst other nations have seen theirs slide. That means that the cost of our national borrowing is still relatively low. The conundrum now is how we stimulate recovery.

It was interesting to hear Labour MPs admitting ‘past mistakes’ at their conference. It seems to me that they made one huge one. Gordon Brown once famously claimed the end of ‘boom and bust.’ In actual fact, he presided over an almighty boom which was inevitably going to be followed by a bust of matching proportions.

Successive goverments of all hues have always made the same, fundamental economic mistake: they never apply the brakes when the economy is booming. The result is that they then have to apply the squeeze when we are already suffering from recession.

Gordon Brown could have told lenders to limit credit, for example, when experts were warning us about huge levels of personal debt. He could have outlawed 125% mortages – since they were clearly an insane business model which led directly to the collapse of lenders like Northern Rock.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have to hope that the long view is that we have been acting responsibly.

Labour still have many questions to answer, and only kneejerk responses to efforts to mop up the mess.

Swept Away by the Red Tide of Protest

So, I have become a statistic. I have spent the last six weeks fighting against strong Tory opponents who have canvassed my ward and fought on local issues. It was all to no avail, as the ward was won by Labour. What is sad is that Labour did not put out any literature about local issues. Instead it was just standard, cynical ‘let’s punish the Lib Dems’ national messages. I am not alone, of course. This has happened to hundreds of decent hard working councillors all over England, and to some extent other parts of the UK.

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and we managed to buck the trend by getting three new councillors elected too. In fact we are still the largest opposition party on Wycombe District Council. We achieved this by one councillor, who won by one vote! This certainly goes to prove that every vote counts – a lesson there, I think.

Labour’s gloating must be tempered by their abject failure in Scotland. Surely a referendum on Scottish independence must now seem likely – and Labour will know that a Westminster majority without Scotland would be almost impossible for them.

Unseated Lib Dems must steady their nerve, however. It is quite clear that Labour is little more than a party of protest, at this time. Just as in my local District, nationally Labour has no coherent alternative vision. They are just saying, ‘vote for us because you don’t like the difficult decisions that we left for the government to deal with.’ That simply won’t wash for very long. We at least are doing a responsible job – and by and large we are doing it well under the circumstances.

If there is a lesson, it is that we need to be better at communicating what we have achieved, and continue to achieve. Last week, I met a voter who told me he was voting Labour because of all of the promises we had broken. When I asked him, ‘which ones’ he couldn’t name any! We have certainly implemented many of our manifesto pledges, and this has gone largely unnoticed. It would have been nice to implement all of them, but (a) we didn’t win the election and (b) Labour spent all the money!

So whilst I must accept my defeat with good grace, I certainly don’t feel that Labour deserved the win. But then, that’s politics for you!

Did we start too late?

…or, “please can we have the AV vote in a couple of months time?

I’m starting to believe that the tide is turning again in the AV debate. Earlier this year, it seemed as though ‘Yes’ was slightly ahead – although between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ there was a great sea of ‘Don’t Know.’ Then the Tory big bucks backed No campaign unleashed its attack dogs. Anyone wondering how the No campaign intended to justify the obviously unfair status quo was left in no doubt: by shouting misleading and downright dishonest propaganda so loudly that the undecided would buy it in sufficient numbers to swing the undecideds into the No camp through fear. But the No campaign is like the emperor’s new clothes – a veneer that is easily chipped away by fact. It’s just that it takes time. Anyone out canvassing at the moment will be aware of two things. 1. Most of non political public don’t really know enough real facts to make an informed decision. They DO know what the No campaign say about it though! 2. Most non political people are pretty fair-minded. They would prefer fairness to unfairness in our electoral system. In my experience, you can swing a lot of people just by explaining what AV really is, and why it is fairer – and importantly why it won’t actually lead to more extremists being elected or cost the taxpayer a fortune. Trouble is, most of us also have other elections to fight and a limited time per doorstep.

But I do feel that the longer the AV campaign goes on, the more people will come over to the Yes side. The frailty of the No camp’s arguments means that the don’t stand up to close scrutiny. How the Tories must have cringed as Baroness Warsi was comprehensively taken apart by Adam Boulton. That clip does more in five minutes than a Yes campaign video ever can. I also believe that the sheer nastiness of the No campaign’s vilification of Nick Clegg is beyond the pale. For Cameron to try to distance himself when his party bankrolls it is outrageous. Whatever anyone might criticise Clegg for, he has been a loyal coalition partner and deserves better. Given a few weeks, I think the public would see through the No campaign. It is treating people like fools.

Saddest of all is the limp and pathetic leadership of Ed Milliband. His party supported AV at the last election, and yet half of his MPs are working for the Tories thinly veiled ‘apolitical’ No campaign. If only Labour could wake up and smell the coffee. A strong Labour leader could get his party to support reform. Milliband is neither strong nor a leader. Labour campaigning in the local elections is so lazy, they appear to expect as of right to pick up hundreds of council seats based entirely on people’s disaffection with the Government. Their local literature is the same in every ward, and totally ignores relevant local issues. Labour is a rudderless ship, drifting – and letting the Tories and the Daily Mail set the agenda.

How to be more visible

One thing that you learn fighting elections is that the oldest tricks in the book are, well, the oldest tricks in the book.

This is the first time that I’ve been called upon to defend a seat, and therefore been on the receiving end of some of this.

Our rivals in a two member ward are two Tories and two Labour. As you do, I ask supporters if they mind letting me have the rival literature so that I can see if what my opponents are saying about me is fair.

My favourite (if that’s the word) ploy is the one my Tory rivals are using. This is to suggest that the incumbents don’t do enough.

Can you even name you current councillors?

Crows the Tory leaflet…

…and even if you can name them, when did you last see them?

On the face of it, it seems very plausible. But actually, it’s a bit hard to defend yourself, isn’t it?

In my own case, the first question actually sounds a bit silly to most residents I have spoken to. I am Group Leader, and I was the Parliamentary Candidate last year and came a strong second. I’ve been in the local paper so often I get stopped in the street. So yes, they usually can name me and therefore the question sounds facetious.

The second question, the one about how often do you see your councillor is more troubling. Think about it, ‘how often do you see your local councillor?’ It really depends on whether or not you have cause to. It’s a bit like saying ‘how often do you see your plumber?’ Well, not very often, I hope! Clearly, I see some residents quite often and I see other occasionally. But the majority won’t need to see me regularly at all.

Still, if the Tories were to beat us, can I assume that for the next four years they would both patrol around the ward on a regular basis wearing brightly coloured uniforms with ‘councillor’ emblazoned across the back – just to ensure that they were ‘visible’ enough?


Thank You Wootton Bassett

The people of Wootton Bassett are very special indeed. It was my great privilege to take part in Ride of Respect 2011 in aid of Afghan Heroes. For a motorcyclist to take part in a massed ride is frankly, a pleasure. We did it to pay tribute to the people of Wootton Bassett, and their spontaneous displays of respect to our fallen.
I was particularly moved by one lady, who shouted out ‘Thank you for coming’ to each and every one of us as we passed. We don’t deserve their thanks.
The people who deserve our thank are the men and women of our armed forces, who risk their lives to serve this country. I feel very humbled today.